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Tips for berry good dipping

Chris Macias

Shari Fitzpatrick, founder of a popular line of chocolate strawberries and other confections, has a new book, just in time for Valentine's Day: "Berried in Chocolate: How I Built a Multimillion-Dollar Business by Doing What I Love to Do and How You Can Too" (Pelican, $23).

Fitzpatrick offers tips on how to create chocolate-dipped berries at home. The overall process is simple: Buy strawberries, melt chocolate, dip the strawberries, let dry and enjoy. But there's plenty of fine-tuning that goes into these treats:

• Start with a fat strawberry: The berries need to be big enough to bear the toppings and also hold up to the heat of melted chocolate. "You want a really big and firm strawberry," said Fitzpatrick.

• Invest in a triple slow cooker: Fitzpatrick used to fire up a series of slow cookers to make her dipped strawberries at home, but a slow-cooker trio makes the work easier. These units house three slow cookers in a single appliance and can be found for about $50. "I do white chocolate in one, then dark chocolate and milk chocolate," said Fitzpatrick.

• Don't work with wet fruit: Make sure your strawberries are dried well before you start dipping. Otherwise, you'll end up with a mushy mess.

• Watch the temperature: Chocolate burns easily and, if it's too hot, also has a hard time sticking to the strawberry. Fitzpatrick recommends going no higher than the "warm" setting on a slow cooker. If melting chocolate in a microwave, set the oven to "defrost" for three minutes. Repeat in three-minute increments until melted.

• Drizzle smoothly: Use a spatula to drizzle designs onto your chocolate-dipped strawberries. Practice your drizzling technique in the bowl.

• Eat them fresh: Only freeze your strawberries in a pinch. They're meant to be enjoyed sooner rather than later, ideally the same day you've dipped them. "Strawberries are 75 percent water, and like frozen strawberries, they turn to sauce when they thaw," said Fitzpatrick.

• Throw a chocolate-dipping party: "I'm always doing them," said Fitzpatrick. "It's like a party favor that you can eat and take home."

Melted Dipping Chocolate

1 12-oz. bag semisweet chocolate chips (or white chocolate chips or butterscotch chips)

1/4 tsp. orange, hazelnut or mint extract or liqueur (optional)

Put chips in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on defrost setting for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir. Microwave for another 2 to 3 minutes on defrost setting. Stir. Repeat until chips are completely melted. If desired, add liqueur or flavored extract.

Pour melted chocolate into fondue pot or slow cooker. Keep warm on lowest setting and place on a table for dipping. Stir occasionally if necessary.

— From 'Berried in Chocolate' by Shari Fitzpatrick